Informing Bethany Lutheran College's Spring 2013 Production. Shows at: April 19, 20, 26, 27 at 7:30pm and April 21 at 2pm
On a clear day in March I sat down with Peter Bloedel, director and scenic designer of our production of “Hamlet” to discuss his role in the show.
Pete originally came to Bethany as a student in 1986 as a music major. As he auditioned and got to know Sig Lee, the theatre director at the time, Pete came to realize that theatre was really his calling. He fell in love with scenic design while completing his B.A. at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
“My professor thought I was nuts because I would just camp out in the design room and make models.”
Pete explained that he was drawn by the art of dealing with actor traffic onstage and became passionate about the opportunity to create designs that actors would love to act on.
Hence, the fourteen foot towers in his design.
“I love putting actors in places you don’t necessarily see them usually. I’ve always loved trap doors. I’ve always loved crows nests… I want the audience to say ‘are they going to put people up there?’ AND THEN THEY DO!”
The process for choosing a play at Bethany is not an easy one. Pete approaches it, first and foremost, through the Christian lens, asking whether we, as Christian artists can do a production and feel good about it.
After that has been considered, you have to take into consideration the people in the department and the talent present. With any Shakespeare production, there is the issue of men. “Hamlet” especially is a production Pete had to think about for some time.
“Hamlet’s always been on my ‘wanna do list,’ frankly you need men for any Shakespeare show, but you can’t gender bend so easily for Hamlet. Hamlet’s go to be a guy, Ophelia has to be who she is. Gender bending really changes the tenure of the thing…you need guys and we have guys.”
Choosing a Concept
Something Pete was clear about when deciding upon “Hamlet” was that he did not like Shakespeare done in Elizabethan period.
The production still speaks to us today. Pete maintains that “Hamlet” speaks to human psychology, if Shakespeare plays have something to teach it is that people’s brains are complex things. Humans are wrought with indecision and make choices they regret later.
“It’s interesting to find that we’re not so different than the 1500s, we have the same sins. We’re still the same as we were. What motivates us, it’s still greed, lust, fame, glory.”
By that logic, we shouldn’t need to do Shakespeare in the Elizabethan style. The concept Pete arrived at is set in the more recent past, focusing on the themes in the text, rather than the time.
“Revenge is a dirty business… you have to harden yourself. Hamlet goes through a great change, he hardens himself and it’s a dirty and gritty business,” Pete ponders.
Those emotions inspired industrial images in Pete’s mind. He was originally inspired by a scenic design for “Hamlet” by Richard Finkelstein.
He described his design as looking like a metal brain, a symbol for the process Hamlet has to go through while he deals with mourning his father’s death and the idea of murdering his uncle.
Richard Finkelstein’s design.
Many people would shy away from directing and designing the same show, usually one is enough work for them.
“It’s hard,” Pete admits. “I think that it probably look like I’m a control freak… I wouldn’t have had to be the designer, but I wanted to do industrial.”
After stumbling on the Finkelstein design, Pete was inspired to figure out how to bring those images into his own work. The Finkelstein image was just a stepping stone in his process and the figuring was a part of the work Pete enjoys.
The harder part is, rather, putting hours in building and painting the set and then coming in to direct rehearsal.
“It’s a weird line of work, I know I’m here every weekend until ‘Hamlet’ opens. We don’t have to work so hard, but we do, that’s the nature of art. The very nature of doing art is excelling and doing something awesome.”
To Pete part of that excellence comes from the power of small theatre, specifically in the work we get to do here at Bethany.
“Sometimes I think the smaller theaters are doing the best, coolest stuff. If our budget was determined by the sales, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Pete compared shows we have done with the kind of season larger theatre departments, such as MSU, have to do. Specifically in relation to the kind of detail that goes in to every production at Bethany.
Pete’s advice for young theatre artists actually came from his Technical Director at MSU. He said “Ya gotta know what the rules are. Then once you know what they are, you have permission to break them.” Pete explained that you have to understand that there is a process and understand the reasons for doing things, then you have artistic license to then do away with those for something that might work better.
So there you have it, guys, a brief look into the Hamlet-enthralled brain of our director and designer, Peter Bloedel.
Lydia Grabau, Dramaturg